NASA scientists are freaking out over Mars rover landing

This is an illustration showing a simulated view of NASA’s In Sight lander about to land on the surface of Mars. Image credit NASA  JPL-Caltech
This is an illustration showing a simulated view of NASA’s In Sight lander about to land on the surface of Mars. Image credit NASA JPL-Caltech
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27 November, 2018

Along for the ride to Mars are two communication relay CubeSats, MarCO-A and B. The briefcase-sized spacecraft were intended as demonstrators, but since both have functioned admirably en-route to the Red Planet as independent flyers, will provide a short-term communication relay for InSight as the lander heads down to the surface.

But then, the spacecraft's thrusters begin to fire, further slowing down the 800-pound (365 kilogram) spacecraft to a speed of just about 5 miles per hour (8 kph) when it reaches the surface.

Here we reveal when and how to watch the Mars Lander touch down on Mars.

The attraction is sure to grow on Monday, Nov. 26 with the arrival of a NASA lander named InSight.

All being well, the InSight probe should enter the Martian atmosphere at 12,300mph before an array of 12 thrusters attempts to slow it down to 5mph for a safe touchdown.

The eight-minute time delay with Earth means scientists will be as powerless as the hundreds watching the mission live on TV.

So what do we know about the InSight robot, which is armed to the teeth with scientific instruments?

The spacecraft is not a rover.

InSight will dig 16 feet into the ground to measure the temperature of Mars and it has a seismometer to detect any Mars-quakes.

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Earth's latest mission to Mars is reaching its conclusion Monday, and it's got NASA experts and the interested public holding their collective breath.

InSight will emit radio waves which can be monitored from Earth.

More than half of all Mars missions have failed to arrive safely at the Red Planet over the years, so the InSight team is anxious about today's events. Suspended legs will also be used to absorb some of the shock.

Since there is no joystick back on Earth for this spacecraft, and no way to intervene if anything goes wrong, Hoffman described his emotions as mixed.

If all goes according to plan, it will drop onto the equatorial plain called Elysium Planitia at about 5 miles per hour - but scientists won't know if its solar panels will have deployed until about 8:35 p.m. EST, when NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter will be in position to relay data to Earth. Since 1964, the United States has now launched 23 robotic spacecraft to the red planet at a cost of more than $20 billion in an evolving campaign to map out the red planet's surface, determine the role of water in its history and to search for signs of past habitability and the organic building blocks of life. In fact, only 40% of the world's attempts to explore Mars since 1960 have been successful.

The Nasa Viking probes of the mid-1970s were equipped with seismometers, too, but they were bolted to the top of the landers, a design that proved largely ineffective.

"Landing on Mars is exciting, but scientists are looking forward to the time after InSight lands", said Glaze. The two instruments cost the European space agencies about $180 million.

But the real action, at least on Earth, will unfold at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, home to InSight's flight control team.

Still, according to Bruce Banerdt, InSight's Principal Investigator, all is not necessarily lost if they don't receive that final tone. The company was the prime contractor in building InSight, which stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. Just north of its equator, it's also a great place for InSight's solar panels to generate power for long periods.


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